Pakistan is increasingly becoming one of the least hospitable environments for media business. There is no doubt that with the global print industry heaving its last sighs, in Pakistan the situation is not any different. A large and vibrant press that we cherish is on the verge of being extinguished by simple disappearance of funds. For some more than others. During the last three months of the previous government, advertising in the government sector alone fell by 70%. Commercial advertising followed shortly thereafter.
The current election season and economy have been plagued by such uncertainty that the minimum two-month long advertising cycle has not even reached full strength today, i.e. just one short week before the elections are due to take place. During the 2013 elections, political party advertising teams were fighting for space on the front and back pages. Today, newspapers have discounted their advertising rates and are still seeing day after day of no advertising revenue. Not from election campaigns. Not from government. Not from commercial clients. Not just the newspaper industry, but newspaper readers must also introspect. What is the cause of this uncertainty?
Operational issues should also be seriously considered. Some print media have raised questions on their ability to reach paying subscribers. For others like Nawaiwaqt and The Nation, so far subscribers have made no complaint. Some television channels found themselves off air across the country. While others enjoy unfettered access to people’s television screens.
With newspapers and television channels mushrooming without check, those professional media industry practitioners whose sole business is journalism have found themselves faced with competition from unendingly deep pockets, and unassailable support systems to fund their loss making new media businesses. Oil industries, colleges, etc, all now boast a ‘side’ business, in the form of a media experiment. They fear nothing of piled upon arrears made instantly payable, they face no difficulty due to the government-created circular debt of delayed payments for advertising, they make no compliance of the Wage Board Award. Yet, the ones who do, receive no glory for it. No tax cuts. No increased quotas of advertising. Nothing.
So where is our media headed? Will genuine media houses be squeezed out by new entrants with purely pecuniary interests? Or will our readers and viewers — and also advertisers — support us. Will they help resuscitate professional journalism, will they help to restore it to a position where it is trusted and not unfairly maligned? Will they — you, dear reader — stand by us? We ask you for your support.